We recently caught up with Kyle Melton from the band Smug Brothers and forced him to put his romancing on hold to answer our usual set of intrusive questions. This is what he had to say…
Hi, Kyle. How the hell are you?
Very good, sir. Just waking up here in Columbus on Valentine’s Day.
Can you tell us who is in the band Smug Brothers and how you got together?
Currently, the band is me, Don Thrasher, Brian Baker, and Larry Evans. The band started out in 2004 as a side project of my old band Montgomery Greene. Darryl Robbins [currently of Motel Beds
] had just joined the group and we set out to do a quick album where he did all the music and I sang. The first album Buzzmounter, which came out in 2005, was done that way. Then we kinda laid low until early 2008. Don joined at that point working on the Fortune Rumors album with Darryl and I. Brian joined in June 2009 as we were getting ready to play out. Larry joined in February 2012.
You are from Dayton, Ohio – the birthplace of flight (and Guided By Voices) – is there a ‘Dayton Sound’ reflecting these two facts?
Well, we are all huge fans of GBV [Larry has a tattoo], so that is a touchstone for us, of course. But we also love the Breeders and Brainiac and the Beatles and Beefheart. I’m not so sure there’s a Dayton sound, but obviously when people from your hometown make great music, you certainly get a certain degree of inspiration or pride or whatever about what’s growing in your backyard, you know?
I first identified with your sound as echoing the late 90s period GBV. What are your favourite songs of theirs?
Is there such a thing? It’s usually whatever song is on. However, “Make Use” & “Subspace Biographies” are crushers. And so is “Get Under It”. And “Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department” is amazing. I got “Faulty Superheroes” last summer and couldn’t believe how good it was. Yeah, we could go on and on….
Your own label is called Gas Daddy Go – is this a reference to the Tobin Sprout song ‘Gas Daddy Gas’?
No, Don started that label back in 1989. He put out a bunch of cassettes & vinyl in the 90s, then it just sat there until he and I revived it 2011 to release Treasure Virgins and start working with other Dayton bands.
[It might not strictly be relevant, but it is an ace song! – TTWGBV Ed]
I now have 86 more of your songs than I did when the year started. Should I just start listening at Buzzmounter and catch up chronologically?
You could do that. I dig chronological listening parties. I think you can jump in pretty much anywhere though.
Kicker’s feeling pretty pleased with himself for scooping this little lot
Is Buzzmounter a reference to getting on buses? If not, what is it? [Us northern English folk pronounce ‘bus’ as “buzz”, dontcha know? – TTW Phonetics Ed]
Ha! That’s a great notion. But no, it’s not about that. Darryl and I were joking about the “mounting buzz” amongst other Dayton friends when we were working on that first album. Hence, “Buzzmounter”.
When you’re writing songs do you start with a title, a lyric or the music?
I write a lot of lyrics, keep them in a folder, then sit down with a guitar and see what happens. I have a 5-folder system to keep all the little pieces of paper organized. A friend asked why I have so many short songs, then I showed him the tiny pieces of paper I write lyrics on. You set different boundaries, you get different results. He went out and got himself one of those notebooks.
How do you develop songs as a band?
Typically I send the guys demos and we pick which ones we like or whatever. At my old house, Don and I would just 4-track in the basement and then let everyone else add their parts later. We’ve had a lot of bass players, so we never really had a solid working model. Larry has been really diligent about learning new material, so we’re moving a lot faster than we used to, which I love. Gotta get them songs out.
Which is your favourite EP/album of yours? Why?
I thought Fortune Rumors was pretty much perfect. They all have great bits though. Punchline was pretty solid as well. I thought we did a good job on that one, and I love the art that Louis Zeija let us use for that. This guy in NYC who I met through GBV Facebook stuff does this great collages and I asked if we could use a couple and he let us.
And Woodpecker Paradise is solid all the way through. I dunno, they all have really good parts I’m proud of.
Your latest release is a split cassette with the band Brat Curse called Echo Complex – is this an effect pedal reference? How do you think your band’s sound has moved on since Buzzmounter?
I dunno where I got that title from. I have lists and lists and lists full of them. I just like the notion of Echo Complex. Makes me think of past things bouncing back and having to address them before they bounce away again. As far as our sound, yeah, it’s definitely changed a lot. I mean, I write pretty much the same, but I’ve changed some. Darryl had a style, which isn’t there anymore. The four of us have a style of playing that is just different. I think we’re less overtly GBV and trying to do more proggish stuff, but in our own way. I don’t know that I’ll ever get in Peter Gabriel style costume phase. But you never know…
We played Glamour Suitcase on the pod recently and I have used this to open the Smug Brothers Mix CD I am currently forcing on people I know (and some I don’t). What do you think an introductory mix to your band should open and close with (I closed with All The Right Territory)?
Those are good choices. I dunno, your guess is as good as mine on that one. I sequenced them all once already, It’s your turn.
The line “A shovel head salute to a dying institute” (from the song Fortune Rumors) has been in my head for weeks now and is one of my favourites of yours. What turn of phrase were you most happy to get in to a song? Have you got a line you are still waiting to use?
I was pretty happy with that one, lyrically. There are some very evocative lines in that one. I just like imaginative lines, things that conjure something you can sink into, you know? That can happen a lot of ways. Pretty much every song has to have some thing I can get into singing. If there isn’t some line that makes a song work for me, we just don’t do it. I trash it and move on to the next one. I don’t know if I have a line that I’m really waiting to use at the moment, but there are pages and pages of stuff to work on.
Some of my favourite Smug Brothers songs e.g. You’ve Got A Margaret Guarantee and Stand & Leave are barely a minute long and yet say so much. What are the particular challenges of writing shorter songs?
There is no challenge, really. That comes back to the small pieces of paper. You make music until you run out of words. Then you’re done and it’s a song. Those are just so fun to write, for me.
I really like the bass sound on Farewell Equator – is this a particularly fun song to play live?
That was our old bass player, Shaine Sullivan. He was in the band for about 18 months. He had this weird old bass and ran it through an old Silvertone amplifier, which just sounded incredible. He is only on like 5-6 songs on Punchline, but he did a great job. We played it live only a couple of times and it just didn’t go over. Maybe we’ll try it again some time…
Another particular favourite is A Favourite Shark Treat, which has a really cool intro, but I’m pretty sure what our reader really wants to know is what you feel would make a good treat for a shark.
I dunno. I’ve never interviewed a shark.
me? i prefer custard
There is some top-notch whistling in the song The Feast You Invited. Are you generally a fan of whistling in rock songs? Which is your favourite example?
Thanks. Yeah, the demo I did was done on like the first really sunny spring day several years ago and I got to that part and just whistled a solo and Don loved it and insisted I do it on the album. I dunno about whistlers in rock, but my grandfather was a great whistler. It’s an ode to him.
Do you have a smug brother?
Two, actually, by birth. Brian and Joel. Was just joking around with them this morning about the movie “Strange Brew”. We have great bouts of uncontrollable laughter when we visit. They are not smug though.
Apart from GBV, who else has influenced you musically?
The usual suspects: Beatles, Stones, Who, Zep, Floyd, Bowie all were huge growing up. More recently the Strokes, Wolf Parade’s first album was great. Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s first one was good. Twin Peaks is some great newer stuff. I love weirder stuff like Steve Reich and Stockhausen and Eno’s Ambient albums. Tons of jazz and blues and country. I dunno, there’s so much to listen to all the time. There’s so much to be inspired by, but influences are more difficult, since they take time to sink in and really become a part of you.
What are the more obscure instruments you have used on any of your songs?
Oh, we don’t get too exotic. A little organ here and there, some weird effects. We like guitars and drums, really. Probably won’t hear any digeridoos on the next album.
Which other current bands should we be listening to but probably aren’t?
There are so many bands out there it’s tough to keep up. However, if you aren’t hip to the Gas Daddy Go! Records roster, I’d check that out. [wink wink]
As an American you may not be overly familiar with the sport of cricket, but I still have to ask you – is it any good or a load of old bollocks?
Seems like you Brits take it pretty seriously, so I say more power to you. I haven’t made heads or tails of it myself.
Another traditional question that I have to ask you is this: you’re in a caff (diner) ordering breakfast. You can have toast and your choice of tea or coffee and then you’re allowed 4 more items. What are they?
Eggs, home fries with cheese, fresh fruit, and gravy.
for breakfast? respect.
What do you have to be smug about?
Nothing, really. I actually try and be humble and nice to people.
When can our listener expect to see you playing in the UK?
Whenever we get that invite to Glastonbury.
Can we expect to see any new Smug Brothers releases in 2016?
Yeah, we are planning a retrospective disc this summer and we’re rehearsing for a new album, Disco Maroon, which we’re going into the studio for in April. Hopefully that will be out by the end of the year.
Thanks so much for talking to us. What are you going to do right now?
I’m off to get more coffee and spend Valentine’s Day with my girlfriend, Nicole. Thanks again for the interview, Kicker! Cheers!
Check out the following sites and build your own Smug Brothers playlist:
This is what Kicker has on his…
A Short Time
You’ve Got A Margaret Guarantee
You’ll Wake To Salute
(A Minute For) Ruby Skate
Signals Drop In
A New Wrinkle
Moved To Glacier
A Favorite Shark Treat
Sweetness At Second
Razor Thin Races
Low Like Nothing
She Grew Up On The Block
Stand & Leave
Striking Relative Humor
Expected To Show
To See Tonight
They Are Fluid
Quick To Illustrate January
The Feast You Invited
All The Right Territory